EDIT: SORRY FOLLOWERS! FORGOT THE READ MORE BREAK.
Here are the previous steps:
Step 1-Figure out what you are trying to ask your animal.
Step 2-Write down what you want to teach your animal.
Step 3-Make a list of behavioral traits.
AND NOW (again)…
STEP 4: Ask yourself this question: What is the most basic thing your animal knows how to do that you can build into your behavior? (This may require some serious thought.)
You may have to start as basically as “Getting my animal to take reinforcements from my hand.” I had to do this with Zeke. He was a stray, and as such, he was very aware of my hands being near his face.
I started by taking out a treat and placing it on the floor about two feet from me while I sat on the ground. I gradually closed the distance, giving him a “Good boy” every time he took the treat. When I was finally able to sit right in front of him with the treat, I placed it on the ground and let my hand sit there next to it. I gave him a “Good boy” when he ate the treat. Then I held the treat and as soon as he touched the treat with his nose, I gave him a “Good boy,” put the treat on the ground and let him pick it up. Then finally, we had a standoff and I held the treat until he took it from my hand (his biggest trouble at this point was the angle of approach—he couldn’t figure out how to take it from my hand, so we played a trial-and-error game until I found the right place).
Once I got around to the Sit behavior, I started from that beginning behavior. I knew that the way he takes reinforcements would dictate my cue.
Note: When you are hand-feeding an animal, you can expect to get nibbled occasionally—this is where knowing your animal’s body language is key, it will tell you whether your animal is just being a clumsy eater or whether it is being aggressive.
A good example: When the cockatoo I train bites me—which doesn’t happen very often—I look for two things: the position of her crest and the condition of her feathers. If her crest is thrown up and her feathers are slicked against her body, she’s bitten me because something has startled her and I was the victim of displaced aggression. If her crest is down, the feathers around her beak are fluffed up around her cere, and her body feathers are relaxed or slightly puffed, then I was holding the sunflower seed awkwardly and she grabbed my hand as a mistake. It is then my responsibility to react in the correct way. Anything I do reinforces that behavior. I have to be very careful to reinforce the desired behavior (remaining calm) and ignore the undesired (escalation to aggression).
Tip: Right now, I want you to stop everything you are doing and give me your undivided attention. Got you? Good. Erase the word “No” from your vocabulary. Your animal doesn’t understand what the word means, or if it does, it probably associates the word with something unpleasant, like a swat or a loud noise. The trick with training animals is to reinforce behaviors you want and ignore behaviors you do not want. NEVER USE PHYSICAL VIOLENCE TO TRAIN YOUR ANIMAL. This will only cause your animal to associate training—and by extension, you and other human interaction—with negative things. There are very few exceptions to this rule. Very few. Two or three instances and only immediately after the undesired behavior (from “What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage” in which the author received said information from an instructor at Moorpark College).